by Connor Kreger

Staring didn’t accomplish much. It hung from the hanger in front of you and it would hang there until you worked up the nerve to reach out and grab it. You turned your gaze up and to the left a bit, looking at the mannequin that had caught your eye from nearly across the store. That blouse. You couldn’t take your eyes off of it.

No, staring wouldn’t accomplish a damn thing. In fact, staring was actually a pretty stupid thing to be doing. What if someone had noticed you standing there? Nearly drooling with desire, simultaneously paralyzed by fear. Hesitating like you never had before. Someone could have seen you, in that too-big-for-you-must-be-a-guy’s grey Raider’s sweatshirt, and fake designer jeans, lurking through the aisles. You stood out, especially in a bougie-ass store like that one. One glance and they would know you didn’t belong.

In truth, though, you knew that the chance of somebody seeing you was actually pretty slim. The store was deserted, with hardly any shoppers or employees. You’d seen one of the latter earlier, but they looked incredibly busy, distracted, barely able to offer a greeting let alone hound you around the store.

Why did you hesitate, then? You had stolen before. Plenty of times. Blouses, bras, panties, make-up. Small things, usually. Things that you could slip into your pocket or purse (shoplifting’s the only reason you ever carried one around), or put on underneath your other clothes in the dressing room. You’d stolen plenty of things from plenty of stores, but now that you thought about, you’d never stolen from a store like this.

TJ Maxx, Marshalls, JC Penny, Target. H&M, Forever 21. All those stores. But this store? This one was different. This store was nice. So nice that you hadn’t even heard of it until today. So nice that people like you didn’t tend to shop there, and that the shirt in front of you cost more than a week’s paycheck, and you weren’t even really that poor.

You never stole out of necessity. Maybe at first you told yourself that was what it was about, that you were only taking things that you were too financially-strapped to afford. But it had been clear to you for a while that it was something else. Something deep inside. Whatever compelled you to take things that weren’t yours, things that you had really had no right to claim as your own but took anyways, whatever drove you to steal was something rooted inside your being, something that wanted achingly and endlessly and spurred you into action more often than you were proud to admit even to your closest confidantes.

That thing inside of you, it’s what got you out of the house that day. Hell, it’s what got you out of bed most days. It’s what got you to the point where you were right then, standing there in front of the shirt, still staring, still not accomplishing what you had come there to do. That thing deep inside you, it was screaming at you, hissing at you like boiling like a tea kettle in your stomach, and even though you knew you didn’t need the shirt, you knew that you still needed to take it. But you couldn’t.

Every other time it had been easy, but suddenly it wasn’t. Something wasn’t right. Something was off. It wasn’t anything you could articulate or explain, but you could feel it. Almost smell it. You weren’t sure what it was, but you felt it just as loud and clear as the deep urge to steal the blouse.

Your phone made a noise, and you were miraculously able to stop staring at the shirt. You reached into your pocket and took out your (stolen) iPhone, seeing that you’d received a text message from your aunt. It read:

“Where r u? Dinner bout 2 b ready grl”

It was then followed by another message from your aunt, which simply read:

You looked up from the phone and back at the blouse. You stared for a few seconds longer, as if savoring the pain of your inner conflict. Then you turned around and walked away.

Staring hadn’t accomplished anything, but perhaps you had.

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